On April 12, Haymarket Books hosted its virtual event with authors Helena Hansen, David Herzberg and Julie Netherland, hosted by Robin D.G. Kelley.
The authors discussed their new book, “Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in America (2023).”
“The master narrative that these books and articles have propagated throughout the last two and a half decades involves this play of evil pharma and unsuspecting pain. It’s a story line that concealed so much that we might say that it’s false,” Hansen said. “What we do differently with this book is we back up and examine some very unspoken assumptions built into that story line.”
In this book, Hansen, Herzberg, and Netherland analyze how whiteness drove the opioid crisis and why, making the case that it was the product of white racial privilege as well as despair.
Netherland shared more of her experience working in drug policy, witnessing the crisis become more white, while also recognizing the impact of the crisis on communities of color.
“At the time there wasn’t actually a lot of public conversation about how that association came to be and what it meant for those of us working in the policy trenches to transform drug policies,” said Netherland.
She emphasized that this was really a radical shift, with decades of drug policy really focusing on criminalization, leading to the mass incarceration and criminalization of Black and Brown communities across this country.
Herzberg shared his approach to the book, with a historical view. He said it is crucial to really analyze deeply the consistent patterns in the crisis.
“To look at the deep, renewable entrenched patterns that keep coming up again and again, we need to identify deep entrenched causality and explain that,” he said. According to Herzberg, it is also necessary to critically examine “the way that racial capitalism mobilizes whiteness to extract profit from people’s wants and needs, particularly people racialized as non-white, but also sometimes the white people that it claims to serve.”
The authors add that one way to solve the crisis is to analyze our drug laws accurately, to address the inequities of how they’re applied.
Those who are interested can find the book here: https://bookshop.org/a/1039/9780520384057.